The action at Frezenberg had destroyed in a day, what remained of the 1st Battalion.
What men could, stayed and fought the onslaught of the German advance. Choked by smoke and poisoned gas, these gallant defenders fought on in small pockets of men stretched out across the ridge until, one by one, they were overrun.
Harry Clarke, a signaller who had been in the Battalion Commanders dug-out during the initial bombardment was taken prisoner late on the afternoon of the 8th. Exhausted and caked in mud, he had lost his rifle in the action. He recalled the first evening of his captivity: “We started back just before dusk. I simply could not estimate the strength of the Germans. Zonnebeke was crammed with them. We had to leave behind our two badly wounded men, Cpl Pugh and L/Cpl Game, apparently dying and left entirely on their own, but with no stretchers they had to We settled down about 10pm at a place called Beselare and were put in a church which they had made into something like a pig sty. But I was only too glad to lie down after such a day and then a march of four miles.”
Although the German advance had been deep - in some places up to two miles, 1st Suffolks stand astride the Frezenberg ridge, did much to halt the German advance in the central sector of the Ypres Salient.
Within days, news of the battle reached London. Desperate to make a gallant victory from a crushing defeat, the press rallied to the cause. The author Arthur Conan-Doyle noted rather poetically in the Times that; “The flank regiment on the right, the 1st Suffolk, were cut off and destroyed just as their second battalion had been at Le Cateau. At this time the 1st Suffolk was so reduced by the losses sustained that there were fewer than 300 men with the colours. The survivors of the Suffolks were crowded down the trench and mixed up with the 2nd Cheshires. The parapets were wrecked, the trenches full of debris, the air polluted with gas, and the Germans pushing forward on the flank. It is little wonder that in these circumstances this most gallant battalion was overwhelmed.”
Within the first nine months of war, the Suffolk Regiment's entire pre-war strength of over 2000 men (including reservists) had been either killed, wounded or captured. It took 2nd Suffolk six months to be reformed and reborn after Le Cateau. Could such a miracle happen to the 1st Battalion?
Welcome to our online 'blog' charting the history of the many Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment and the part they played in the Great War.
Starting back in March 2014, we have recorded the events of 100 years ago on the centenary of their happening.
Keep checking back to see how the Great War is progressing for the men of the Suffolk Regiment.